Orphan Review

Windy Hill set out on an ambitious journey with their creation of Orphan, a 2D sci-fi platformer about a young boy who must save Earth from an alien invasion. Using the darkness of night and his wits, he sets out on the journey of a lifetime to stop alien machines from destroying the planet.

NOTE: This is from a beta version of the game since it was reviewed prior to its official release. Some in-game details may have changed upon its release.

Story

Warning, if you have not yet completed the game this section will include spoilers. Do not click on the spoiler tags unless you want the story spoiled for you.

Contents

We begin on an alien spaceship where we see a bunch of tubes with children floating in them. One of the tubes is scanned, and we see there’s a life reading. The words, “Wake up” appear on the screen a few times until we are taken to a bus stop in front of someone’s home. This is where we begin controlling the little boy. It serves as a nice way to introduce the player to the controls as there are different objects you can interact with.

We get introduced to the boy’s parents who are going about the end of their day with his mom cooking and his dad doing his chores. You are tasked with a few things such as gathering corn for supper and helping your dad get his toolbox. One of the things you can do is play a video game on the screen similar to Asteroids.

I thought that was a cute little easter egg.

As you make your way inside for supper, a giant comet shooting across the sky catches your eye. As the comet crashes the scene turns white and you are once again asked to wake up.

As you awaken, you find out that you were inside the tube. You explore the ship, eventually coming across a giant robotic face hanging from the ceiling with wires surrounding her face. She tells you to not be scared because she is the one who woke you up. Apparently, the Earth was attacked a long time ago, and her people collected what was left of human DNA to clone us and preserve humankind. You seem to not believe her, so she decides to show you what happened by inserting one of her tendrils inside your head.

Because nothing says “trust me” like forcing your way into someone’s mind!

This is where your journey begins as you live out the last day of your life. Your home is completely destroyed, and the area around you is swarming with machines. You make your way through the forest and eventually come across a blue orb in the rubble. Soon after, you are attacked by a giant machine with tendrils that grab a hold of you. We are brought back to the control room and you are informed that that is how you died.

Once again, we are reluctant to trust the giant floating face, so she offers us up more to see, but warns that any memories we have beyond that are only a dream. We’re taken back to where the machine has been destroyed, and we make our way along the countryside and eventually to a church where we fall deep into the Earth. It is here where we see a vision of the boy sitting with a Native American who is explaining the history of our planet and the aliens.

He explains that back in ancient times a race of aliens, called the Makers, helped humans to civilize the planet, but their own planet was attacked while they were gone. When they returned to defend it they were destroyed. He fades away and you awaken inside a cave. As you make your way through, eventually you come across a dormant spaceship where you enter and are able to use the blue orb to partially power the ship and obtain an alien weapon.

Shortly after, you encounter the first boss of the game in the form of a giant machine wheel, known as Crusher, that moves around the cave shooting blasts of energy and dropping bombs. Once it’s defeated, it drops a blue orb and we are taken back to the control room.

The overseer confirms what the Native American spirit told you as well as explains that the invaders came to Earth to find the Maker’s weapons and ships. They were searching to find the “Orphan Ship” we found in the caves. She claims that she is one of the Makers, and that’s why she is helping you. Once again, she claims that this is where you died, and anything else you see beyond that is still just a dream. Since you’re still not convinced, she puts you back under to allow you to see for yourself.

You continue to make your way through the mountainside and come across a mine. There are a few tasks within the mine that require you to power it back on to make your way through. Once you make your way to the other side you see the forest has been set ablaze.

You proceed further, continuing to fight the machines with your newfound weapons as you search for more orbs that will power the ship. You come across a clearing and yet another of the invaders giant ships attacks. It’s a spider-like monstrosity called Scorcher that uses bombs and flames in an attempt to end you. However, you are able to best it and gain yet another orb.

You go back to the orphan ship and gain your third weapon. It’s clear that you only need one more in pursuit of your goal, and shortly after leaving the cave you come across another Destroyer, the same machine that grabbed you towards the beginning of the game. An intense battle later and you claim the final orb you need to power the ship. This time, you receive EMP grenades for your trouble and it’s time to take the battle to space.

The ship is littered with all manner of nasties as well as intense death traps. You make your way through the ship room by room, trying to find the answers to what truly happened. You begin to notice that the ship is strangely familiar to the same ship you found yourself at the beginning of the game. As you make your way to the control room, the overseer chastises you for pursuing the truth as well as stating that it’s impossible a child could have made it against her army. She says that it would have been easier had you just accepted her story, but now you would have to die.

It was all just a ruse to get you to stop your pursuit for revenge, and she throws everything left in her arsenal at you. A long battle begins, but soon enough she cries out as you land the killing blow. Not one to accept defeat well, her death initiates a self-destruct sequence.

You make your way back to the orphan ship through the mothership that is now falling apart and plummeting to Earth. You make it with only moments to spare, and you make your way back in once peace. Once on Earth, you land back in the cornfields near your home, which is intact. You greet your father who doesn’t believe your story and claims that you must be playing too many video games. As you walk back to your house you look back up at the sky to watch a jet plane fly across the sky where he had seen a comet at the beginning of the game.

This leaves the ending open to interpretation. Did the boy truly set out on a journey and successfully stopped an alien invasion, or was it all just the creative imagination of a child that loves space games?

The story was a wonderful exploration regardless of the outcome, and it truly left me feeling like I had just finished watching a movie. It reminded me a bit of a different mash of things such as the Iron Giant, Star Wars, and other kid sci-fi films.

Characters

Orphan keeps things simple when it comes to certain aspects of the game and characters are one of them. The little boy you take the role of is never named and, in fact, is never really shown. All of the characters are shrouded by shadow, and the only other real characters we encounter along the way are the boy’s parents, a Native American guide, and the giant robot being’s face who is helping you recount your last moments on Earth.

The other characters are just the machine enemies themselves. There are only four varieties of the machines which include:

  • Tank-like sentries that you encounter early on.
  • Rolling sentries that you encounter in the caves.
  • Scorpion-like hunters that are found throughout the game.
  • Flying drones that survey the land.

This was probably one of the weaker aspects of the game. I would have liked to have seen more enemies and deeper connections with the character. I felt like the spirit of the Native American was shoved in there without an explanation, especially since he’s never seen again. I get that the absence of other people was intentional as it was supposed to make you feel a sense of loneliness. I just think that the characters that were featured were more fleshed out.

Game-play

Stealth Or Die

The game-play for Orphan is pretty straightforward for the majority of the game. At first, you have absolutely no way to defend yourself. Therefore, you must sneak around enemies while using the shadows to hide. The landscape plays a huge role in what you are able to hide in. Sometimes it’s rocks or logs and other times there’s tanks abandoned by the military that you can hide under.

One thing that is great, but can suck at times, is that the game doesn’t hold your hand. The path can be quite linear, but a lot of my play time came from getting lost or not doing what I should be doing. There are subtle hints here and there, but some might find the lack of guidance frustrating. However, if you really enjoy a challenge and don’t mind losing yourself in the exploration aspect then you should have no issues.

Also, the game is short. With all of my mistakes and getting lost, the game took me maybe 6 hours to complete. Which isn’t to say that all games should be 20+ hours to be enjoyable, but it is something to consider.

Save Frequently

Saving in the game is different than many others that I have encountered. Near the beginning of the game, you find a tent that you take with you for the remainder of your journey as well as a lantern, a flashlight, and water canteen. This tent can be set up on any flat area as long as there are no enemies within the vicinity. The best part, for me, was that it had unlimited uses which comes in handy because you die A LOT in this game.

Items

As you make your way across the Appalachia you come across various items and tools that help you in your journey. Many of them are hidden and easily overlooked. In fact, I was pretty thorough and I still feel like I was missing quite a few of the items that I could have found. One of the ones that were incredibly helpful was the Pancho which allows you to take more damage. I also found a hiking backpack that allowed me to carry more items. There were also other items like the fishing rod that allows you to fish which in turn heal you when you camp.

There were also items that I never found a use for. For instance, there was a GPS device I found in the cave that I never utilized. I kept forgetting about it and when I did remember there didn’t seem to be anything around me. Bottles were another item I kept coming across but never used. I believe the purpose is to use them as a distraction so you could sneak around enemies, but once I gained my weapons I hardly ever felt the need to sneak and instead opted to go in guns a-blazing. Speaking of weapons…

Weaponry

The first half hour or so, as previously stated, is spent sneaking. You just do not have any other choice because otherwise if you are spotted you will be shot dead, and the machines’ shots REALLY hurt. Thankfully, you eventually come across these blue orbs that you are able to use in order to unlock alien weaponry that you can use. There are only three pieces of unlockable guns, but they are so wonderful to have after constantly dying at the hands of those freaking machines! The fourth orb unlocks EMP grenades which can be restocked as much as you’d like, but you can only carry 6 at a time (12 if you have the backpack upgrade).

The first is the laser gun. It’s nothing fancy but by the time I unlocked it, I was so happy to have something to defend myself that it was the most beautiful thing ever! It fires off rapid shots that do a decent amount of damage, and it comes with the ability to create a bubble shield around you that repels a few hits before disappearing.

The second weapon is the Impulse Cannon. It’s slow on the firing rate, but it really packs a punch, and it can kill the scorpion enemies, as well as the tendrils, in one shot. The shield that comes with this one takes the shape of a vertical line that appears in whatever direction you’re facing. It’s great to use to get away as it will repel any shots fired at it for a few hits. However, as with all of the shields, enemies can pass right through it.

Last, but most certainly not least, is the Defender. I absolutely LOVE this gun and probably utilized it the most after unlocking it. It fires out a steady stream of shots but it seems just a little slower and a little stronger than the laser gun. The big appeal for me is the shield. Instead of being something that you just drop like the other shields, when you aim the gun it creates a shield in front of you right at the tip of the gun. It never breaks, it repels any and all lasers, and it can even reflect some of the shots that are fired at you back at the enemy.

There were a couple of other weapons I found along the way such as grenades and dynamite. However, as far as I could tell, there were only 6 grenades and 12 pieces of dynamite throughout the whole game so I had to use them sparingly.  The EMP grenades more than made up for that, though, as they were able to knock out the tank enemies and completely destroy the scorpion bots.

Soundtrack

What I really enjoyed about Orphan was the atmosphere it creates. It’s not just another platformer, that’s just the game style. No, it’s a complete experience, and that is reflected in the soundtrack. I really wish I could have found the soundtrack somewhere online but, unfortunately, it’s not posted anywhere. However, you can experience some of it in the trailer below.

The music featured in the trailer reflects the darker and more intense moments of the game. I found the final boss song to be very compelling, and it really gets you in that awesome frame of mind I used to be in when fighting iconic bosses like Bowser or Dr. Eggman back in the 90s. However, what’s really interesting is that for the majority of the game the music is calm, melancholy, and even solemn. This makes a lot of sense considering the great feeling of loss and the weight of your journey really has on what’s going on in-game.

Graphics

The graphics in Orphan are similar to those found in Limbo.  All of the characters and enemies are shrouded in complete shadow while some of the environment is illuminated to give the feeling of depth. It was a smart design choice as the game is set just as the sun was setting and takes place throughout the night. Sure, Windy Hill could have gone the 8-bit or 32-bit route to really drive that nostalgia home, but the fact that they went this route was truly a breath of fresh air.

Nothing seems to be a 3D model, and instead, all of the art is based on this 2-D style. Obviously, you can tell that most, if not all, of the game was done this way, save for things like the background you see in the above image which seems to be a real-life capture of a dusk sky. It’s a risky move to use this kind of art-style in a world where in-game models look almost as genuine as real people.  However, using forced perspective and shading, Windy Hill really made the world come to life. The animation was also very fluid and looked like actual movement. I remember a moment, early on, where you see your mother washing dishes. It looked as though they had used motion capture to record a real woman’s actions.

It’s All About The Journey

Orphan is a solid game with great visuals, an emotion-driven soundtrack, and a thrilling story. The gameplay is fun, but it does have quite a high difficulty curve for people who aren’t used to stealth games. There were a few bugs present, but nothing too bad where the game was unplayable. I expect that many of those bugs will be fixed in time for the official release. Fans of old-school 2-D platformers will enjoy the throwback to 90s era gaming while modern gaming fans will enjoy the beautiful graphics and modern gameplay aspects.

For me, the story and atmosphere are where Orphan really shines brightly. The weight of the boy’s mission weighs on you heavily and the hauntingly solemn music reminds you that you are probably the last human on Earth. Your parents, whom you interacted with in the beginning, are all gone. You are all that remains of human-kind, and you alone can ensure that it is preserved.  While that sense of loneliness and loss is felt throughout the game, I wish more attention would have been put into the characters that were present. It is a short game, but maybe why this is an issue for me is because it left me wanting even more. I truly hope that we see a visit back to the world of Orphan at some point in the future.

You can purchase Orphan on Steam starting Halloween (October 31) 2018.

Good

  • Beautiful Soundtrack
  • Effective Visuals
  • Challenging Gameplay

Bad

  • Short Campaign
  • 2-Dimensional Characters
  • High Difficulty Curve
9

Amazing

Story - 10
Characters - 7
Gameplay - 9
Game Mechanics - 8
Soundtrack - 10
Graphics - 10
A writer, video game enthusiast, Halloween nerd, and an author of stories.
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